This Is a Movie Review: A Hacker Spurs a Town Into Nightmarish Vengeance in the Uncompromising ‘Assassination Nation’

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CREDIT: NEON

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2018.

Starring: Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Joel McHale, Bella Thorne, Bill Skarsgård

Director: Sam Levinson

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Very Bloody Violence, Scandalously Lascivious Behavior, and Casual Drug Use and Profanity

Release Date: September 21, 2018 (Limited)

Assassination Nation paints the picture of what might happen if online rage riots coalesced beyond the screens. A hacker who goes by “Er0str4tus” dumps the personal files of the Salem, Massachusetts mayor, exposing him for the hypocrisy of running as a family values, anti-LGBTQ candidate while he gets up to lascivious behavior with other men. The moral calculus is a lot harder to square when the next data dump victim is the local high school principal, who gets labelled an abuser for having nude photos of his young daughter in the bath. He (justifiably) insists that he has done nothing wrong and refuses to resign, further inciting the mob that the entire town is becoming.

We see the consequences of the hacking play out through the lens of the high school, particularly four tight-knit friends: Lily (Odessa Young), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), Bex (Hari Nef), and Em (Abra). They all demonstrate their bona fides when it comes to having a social conscience, Lily especially so. She is wise beyond her years, but angry in a way that belies her youth. She has insightful thoughts about feminism, the male gaze, and just generally treating people with respect. Whenever someone is the target of rage, she considers them fairly and compassionately, recognizing that everyone is a person and contains multitudes. But she is far from perfect, as she is carrying on a rather sleazy emotional affair with her neighbor Nick (Joel McHale), the father of a girl she used to babysit.

When Lily’s secrets are exposed and evidence suggests that she might be behind the hack, she and her friends become the target of the town’s unhinged id, as a full-fledged vengeance-seeking posse takes bloody devastating form. Plenty of women have been threatened with rape and murder for the mistakes that Lily has made (or even milder sins), and the climax of Assassination Nation illustrates how terrifying it would be if a mob of people made good on those promises. While she has transgressed, it is nothing to be killed over, and her attackers correspondingly look insane and inhuman. Ultimately, Lily and her friends are able to fight back in some stylish red leather outfits. It might strain a little credulity that they are suddenly so capable in guerrilla combat, but this film is more feverish than believable, and besides, they have the power of righteousness on their side.

Assassination Nation is Recommended If You Like: The Purge, ’80s John Carpenter, American Horror Story: Cult, South Park Season 20

Grade: 4 out of 5 Red Leather Jackets

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Midnight Sun’ is a Mostly Bearable Slice of Teen Weepie Emotional Porn

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CREDIT: Global Road Entertainment

This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle, Quinn Shephard

Director: Scott Speer

Running Time: 91 Minutes

Rating: PG-13, Because Even Tame Teen Movies Are Rated PG-13

Release Date: March 23, 2018

It’s time for me to just come right out and admit: I have a soft spot for high school movies. How else could I explain my generally positive feelings toward the relatively unheralded Midnight Sun? The dialogue is hokey, and every little decision about what to do is super dramatic. This is all typical of the genre, and it is especially pronounced in this case. But in general, we like to give these excesses a pass, because adolescence is the height of hormonal awkwardness. And in the specific case of Midnight Sun, it is no big deal, charming even, because the vibes are good and everyone is looking out for each other.

Katie Price (Bella Thorne) is a 17-year-old with xeroderma pigmentosum, a potentially deadly sensitivity to sunlight. So she spends her days inside with her loving, protective, widowed father Jack (Rob Riggle). Besides Dad and her team of doctors, the only in-person interaction of note she has had over the years is with her best friend Morgan (Quinn Shephard), who made her way into Katie’s life by sheer force of personality. Since Katie can never venture outside during the day, it makes practical sense that she has never interacted with the boy she is pining after, much more so than is typical for the genre. When that fella, Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), chances to bump into her one night, they are pretty much a perfect item immediately. Since they act like actual teenagers, that initial super-spark does not track as totally unbelievable perfection.

Midnight Sun lays the emotional porn on thick, but it’s not like it is trying to hide its intentions. This is the type of film designed to get the waterworks going, and building the story around a chronic life-threatening disease is a quick, easy way to pull that off. But it is all justified by the fact that the emotions are so grounded. This is a movie in which everyone wants what is best for Katie and she wants what is best for them. They ask her to be honest, and the only times she ever fails to do so are when she does not want someone new to have to bear the burden of her disease. All of the relationships – familial, friendly, romantic – are healthy and admirable, and it is just satisfying to behold that.

It must also be said that Rob Riggle is a bit of a revelation here. From what I know of his career, he has never really stepped out beyond comedy, where he has settled into a niche of partly intimidating, but mostly charming bonhomie. He still more or less fills that role in Midnight Sun, but he recalibrates just enough to be the super-masculine dad who is really a big softie. And the movie needs him to pull that off, because someone has to deliver with conviction lines like “We’re in luck, ’cause she’s one in a million” (in response to being told that the chances of an obscure study leading to a viable treatment option are one in a million). That moment is the height of Midnight Sun’s dorkiness, and thanks to Riggle, I cannot help but love it.

Midnight Sun is Recommended If You Like: The Fault in Our Stars, Everything, Everything, A Walk to Remember

Grade: 3 out of 5 Acoustic Guitars